Iconic track will attract new fans to Formula E – record-breaking speed will keep them

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To succeed as a sport, whether new, emerging or established and growing, there’s a specific market everybody needs, and wants to crack: America.

Like it or not, Stateside offers so many opportunities which cannot be passed up by those who want sustained attention and improvement, be it from the technological side, the financial side or the mass market appeal which a country of over 330 million people can offer.

This weekend Formula E explores that avenue once more with a debut in Portland, Oregon, a home race for the US-based Avalanche Andretti team and a real opportunity to showcase the exciting nature of the title fight to a large, engaged audience who are delighting in motorsport’s focus on their part of the world.

It isn’t a secret that FE, like others, are so intent on capturing their own corner of the US. Last year it was New York City which hosted the E-Prix; with the same setup in Brooklyn unavailable this time around, a move was necessary, a new host sought. Such can be the issue with street racing, given actual vehicle-used roads are regularly taken over for the weekend, but still the expectation remains – is demanded – on a great success at a new location. That won’t be an issue this time as the Portland International Raceway plays host: the IndyCar series track, for the uninitiated.

Given Portland has been retained for next year’s calendar, released this week, even before the first race there is held, it’s safe to say Formula E expect fireworks on a track most regard as having the potential for yet another record-breaking weekend in terms of both overtakes and average speed.


How that plays out across the weekend in qualifying and Saturday night’s race (1am on Sunday for UK viewers) will shape not just how much excitement is generated among the local fanbase, but also how the last two legs of the season and the title race shapes up.

Following on from Portland there are just four races, both double-header weekends: Rome in mid-July, London at the end of that month.

Given Jake Dennis’ recent history at the docklands on home soil, the British driver will be supremely confident of becoming the season nine champion if he’s still in contention to do so when the final pair of races roll around. But for that to be the case, it’s likely he’ll have to excel in Portland in front of his watching bosses and perhaps even claim an incredible fifth podium in a row. But the twin-importance of racing Stateside means that if he does manage it, there’s likely to be more than just points at stake: individual recognition, new fans of the sport and new backers for the team are all important factors at play.

“I think America at the moment is just massive in terms of motorsport,” he said ahead of the Portland race.

“Drive to Survive has really made America come alive in motorsport. Obviously, I know that’s Formula One, but I think for Formula E also, and general motorsport that really got the back end of all that promising viewership.

“To continue on in America with Portland as a new location, an IndyCar circuit, hopefully it can bring in really good fans and viewers. I think it’s just important that Formula E stays on the American soil and I think it’ll just be a great event as a whole.”

Increasingly, that view of the importance of having a presence in the USA is permeating more areas across the championship.

Take the pre-race grid walk, for example.

It’s a chance for some fans to walk among the cars and the drivers, experience the atmosphere from right down on the racetrack and see the perspective of those right in amongst it, looking back up at the stands, the surroundings and their rivals. It’s also a place you’re most likely to see the rich, the famous or the by-invitation-only faces who turn up to race days – at least, unless you have access to the indoor VIP section during the race itself.

Formula E is no different from other types of entertainment in making the most of cross-sport appearances and interest in the name of growth, or even in crossing popular culture divides from outside of sport. Ahead of Portland, for example, actor Jadon Smith is on board. He was at FE NYC a year ago and is a self-professed fan; this time around he has presented a custom-designed bespoke livery on a Gen3 car, which was displayed outside a recent MLS match.

Crossing divides, reaching across sporting thresholds, bringing in new sets of intrigued eyes and keeping them there. It’s all part of the plan for growth, sustained growth, obviously, for a sport which places such high regard on sustainability itself in all its forms.

And yet, for all the legwork around setting up a race and having a spectacular setting, it will only go so far if the event itself is a let-down. Thankfully, a three-way fight for honours which involves a team on home soil should ensure that isn’t the case, along with the quality on show. “I think the racing will allow a good, spectacular event with the amount of overtaking we’re about to see and with the amount of energy saving we have to do,” Dennis concluded.

Eugenio Franzetti, Director of Performance at the DS Penske team, concurs.

“Portland is a very fast circuit, where we’re likely to achieve the highest speeds of the season and in the history of FE. Because of the suction generated on this type of track, we’ve taken all of these characteristics into account in our preparations for the race.”


All the remains, then, is to see who crosses that line first.

::Watch the 2023 Southwire Portland E-Prix on Sunday 25 June live on Channel 4, with coverage starting from 00:30 BST

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